“Hope is the thing with feathers-
That perches in the soul”
I wish I could claim those words as my own; but I’ll give the credit to American poet, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). Those are the opening lines of her work (254) that she wrote in 1861. This is the poem in its entirety:
Hope is the thing with feathers
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Recently, the poem showed up in my life twice in one day– on a screensaver and during an episode of the Netflix drama, “Sweet Magnolias.” I must confess, that I was unfamiliar with the poem but was immediately attracted to the image of a little bird perched in the soul.
In reading online references to various analyses of the poem, I was pulled to this on Wikipedia:
“The poem calls upon the imagery of seafaring adventures with the use of the word “Sea” and “Gale.” Dickinson uses the metaphor of “Hope” being likened unto a bird that does not disappear when it encounters hardships or “storms.”
This appealed to me because as I mentioned in my post last week, “Will You Forgive Me?” : Online Dating, my life has felt burdened down by atmospheric pressure, including the “whirlwind that became a tornado” and other weather systems. That bird of Hope, maintaining its song or “tune without the words,” reminded me of the promise I hold onto as a Christian; God never leaves me or forsakes me, no matter the storms, even when I can’t feel his presence or understand the way he’s working in my life.
Seeing the birds in various art in my home, a friend commented, “You’re a bird person.” I don’t think of myself in those terms because it conjures up images of senior citizens taking their birding binoculars out into a nature refuge. They belong to that subset of the elderly who have a sedentary passion and knowledge of the various species, pressing them to travel in search of their favorite feathered creatures.
But in looking back over my blog posts of the past few years, I see entries that feature my favorite birds: herons, sparrows, bluebirds. On my morning walk yesterday, I caught the glimpse of first light on the wings of a bluebird. I was reminded that I’d heard those creatures called the “harbingers of happiness,” as I described in my post March 2, 2019 Being Present for the Bluebirds.
Yesterday, on that walk when I first awoke, I did feel happier as the worst of the storms have passed. Things have become more still, like the pond next to where I was standing when I spotted that bird. Seeing the deep, vivid blue of the bird’s wings startled me with delight, causing a flutter in my heart that had previously been heavy.
We all have things that can lead us to despair– that point where we feel no hope. Besides our individual struggles, in talking with folks lately, we’ve noted a collective weariness. Some of that may be from being worn down by the past two years of the pandemic. Some of it may be from the worries about our world and the wars that have started, or continue and the impact on those closest to the battle. Others may feel a chronic ache that hasn’t been relieved, an ongoing health issue, or troubled relationship, or daily living struggles with finding enough to sustain life.
My wish for all of us, is that we’ll find the thing that helps us to remain hopeful, allowing the storm to pass or to change. Maybe we have a role — in another person or group of people–finding hope. Helping to lift others’ from despair always has a way of lifting us in turn.
Perhaps after enough time of perching, that feathered thing will take flight and eventually soar, taking us to an altitude of freedom that our weary soul has never known.
Blessings on you,